The Conquest of Canaan

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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Conquest of Canaan, by Booth Tarkington This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: The Conquest of Canaan Author: Booth Tarkington Posting Date: October 9, 2008 [EBook #483] Release Date: April, 1996 Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN *** Produced by Charles Keller. HTML version by Al Haines THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN BY BOOTH TARKINGTON To L.F.T. CONTENTS CHAPTER I. ENTER CHORUS II. A RESCUE III. OLD HOPES IV. THE DISASTER V. BEAVER BEACH VI. "YE'LL TAK' THE HIGH ROAD AND I'LL TAK' THE LOW ROAD" VII. GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME VIII. A BAD PENNY TURNS UP IX. OUTER DARKNESS X. THE TRYST XI. WHEN HALF-GODS GO XII. TO REMAIN ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE IS NOT ALWAYS A VICTORY XIII. THE WATCHER AND THE WARDEN XIV. WHITE ROSES IN A LAW-OFFICE XV. HAPPY FEAR GIVES HIMSELF UP XVI. THE TWO CANAANS XVII. MR. SHEEHAN'S HINTS XVIII. IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY XIX. ESKEW ARP XX. THREE ARE ENLISTED XXI. NORBERT WAITS FOR JOE XXII. MR. SHEEHAN SPEAKS XXIII. JOE WALKS ACROSS THE COURT-HOUSE YARD XXIV. MARTIN PIKE KEEPS AN ENGAGEMENT XXV. THE JURY COMES IN XXVI. "ANCIENT OF DAYS" THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN I ENTER CHORUS A dry snow had fallen steadily throughout the still night, so that when a cold, upper wind cleared the sky gloriously in the morning the incongruous Indiana town shone in a white harmony—roof, ledge, and earth as evenly covered as by moonlight. There was no thaw; only where the line of factories followed the big bend of the frozen river, their distant chimneys like exclamation points on a blank page, was there a first threat against the supreme whiteness. The wind passed quickly and on high; the shouting of the school-children had ceased at nine o'clock with pitiful suddenness; no sleigh-bells laughed out on the air; and the muffling of the thoroughfares wrought an unaccustomed peace like that of Sunday. This was the phenomenon which afforded the opening of the morning debate of the sages in the wide windows of the "National House." Only such unfortunates as have so far failed to visit Canaan do not know that the "National House" is on the Main Street side of the Court-house Square, and has the advantage of being within two minutes' walk of the railroad station, which is in plain sight of the windows—an inestimable benefit to the conversation of the aged men who occupied these windows on this white morning, even as they were wont in summer to hold against all comers the cane-seated chairs on the pavement outside. Thence, as trains came and went, they commanded the city gates, and, seeking motives and adding to the stock of history, narrowly observed and examined into all who entered or departed. Their habit was not singular. He who would foolishly tax the sages of Canaan with a bucolic light-mindedness must first walk in Piccadilly in early June, stroll down the Corso in Rome before Ash Wednesday, or regard those windows of Fifth Avenue whose curtains are withdrawn of a winter Sunday; for in each of these great streets, wherever the windows, not of trade, are widest, his eyes must behold wise men, like to those of Canaan, executing always their same purpose. The difference is in favor of Canaan; the "National House" was the club, but the perusal of traveller or passer by was here only the spume blown before a stately ship of thought; and you might hear the sages comparing the Koran with the speeches of Robert J. Ingersoll. In the days of board sidewalks, "mail-time" had meant a precise moment for Canaan, and even now, many years after the first postman, it remained somewhat definite to the aged men; for, out of deference to a pleasant, olden custom, and perhaps partly for an excuse to "get down to the hotel" (which was not altogether in favor with the elderly ladies), most of them retained their antique boxes in the post-office, happily in the next building. In this connection it may be written that a subscription clerk in the office of the Chicago Daily Standard, having noted a single subscriber from Canaan, was, a fortnight later, pleased to receive, by one mail, nine subscriptions from that promising town. If one brought nine others in a fortnight, thought he, what would nine bring in a month? Amazingly, they brought nothing, and the rest was silence. Here was a matter of intricate diplomacy never to come within that youth his ken. The morning voyage to the post-office, long mocked as a fable and screen by the families of the sages, had grown so difficult to accomplish for one of them, Colonel Flitcroft (Colonel in the war with Mexico), that he had been put to it, indeed, to foot the firing-line against his wife (a lady of celebrated determination and hale-voiced at seventy), and to defend the rental of a box which had sheltered but three missives in four years. Desperation is often inspiration; the Colonel brilliantly subscribed for the Standard, forgetting to give his house address, and it took the others just thirteen days to wring his secret from him. Then the Standard served for all. Mail-time had come to mean that bright hour when they all got their feet on the brass rod which protected the sills of the two big windows, with the steam-radiators sizzling like kettles against the side wall. Mr. Jonas Tabor, who had sold his hardware business magnificently (not magnificently for his nephew, the purchaser) some ten years before, was usually, in spite of the fact that he remained a bachelor at seventy-nine, the last to settle down with the others, though often the first to reach the hotel, which he always entered by a side door, because he did not believe in the treating system. And it was Mr. Eskew Arp, only seventy-five, but already a thoroughly capable cynic, who, almost invariably "opened the argument," and it was he who discovered the sinister intention behind the weather of this particular morning. Mr. Arp had not begun life so sourly: as a youth he had been proud of his given name, which had come to him through his mother's family, who had made it honorable, but many years of explanations that Eskew did not indicate his initials had lowered his opinion of the intelligence and morality of the race. The malevolence of his voice and manner this morning, therefore, when he shook his finger at the town beyond the windows, and exclaimed, with a bitter laugh, "Look at it!" was no surprise to his companions. "Jest look at it! I tell you the devil is mighty smart. Ha, ha! Mighty smart!" Through custom it was the duty of Squire Buckalew (Justice of the Peace in '59) to be the first to take up Mr. Arp. The others looked to him for it. Therefore, he asked, sharply: "What's the devil got to do with snow?" "Everything to do with it, sir," Mr. Arp retorted. "It's plain as day to anybody with eyes and sense." "Then I wish you'd p'int it out," said Buckalew, "if you've got either." "By the Almighty, Squire"—Mr. Arp turned in his chair with sudden heat—"if I'd lived as long as you—" "You have," interrupted the other, stung. "Twelve years ago!" "If I'd lived as long as you," Mr. Arp repeated, unwincingly, in a louder voice, "and had follered Satan's trail as long as you have, and yet couldn't recognize it when I see it, I'd git converted and vote Prohibitionist." "I don't see it," interjected Uncle Joe Davey, in his querulous voice. (He was the patriarch of them all.) "I can't find no cloven-hoof-prints in the snow." "All over it, sir!" cried the cynic. "All over it! Old Satan loves tricks like this. Here's a town that's jest one squirmin' mass of lies and envy and vice and wickedness and corruption—" "Hold on!" exclaimed Colonel Flitcroft. "That's a slander upon our hearths and our government. Why, when I was in the Council—" "It wasn't a bit worse then," Mr. Arp returned, unreasonably. "Jest you look how the devil fools us. He drops down this here virgin mantle on Canaan and makes it look as good as you pretend you think it is: as good as the Sunday-school room of a country church—though THAT"—he went off on a tangent, venomously—"is generally only another whited sepulchre, and the superintendent's mighty apt to have a bottle of whiskey hid behind the organ, and—" "Look here, Eskew," said Jonas Tabor, "that's got nothin' to do with—" "Why ain't it? Answer me!" cried Mr. Arp, continuing, without pause: "Why ain't it? Can't you wait till I git through? You listen to me, and when I'm ready I'll listen to—" "See here," began the Colonel, making himself heard over three others, "I want to ask you—" "No, sir!" Mr. Arp pounded the floor irascibly with his hickory stick. "Don't you ask me anything! How can you tell that I'm not going to answer your question without your asking it, till I've got through? You listen first. I say, here's a town of nearly thirty thousand inhabitants, every last one of 'em—men, women, and children—selfish and cowardly and sinful, if you could see their innermost natures; a town of the ugliest and worst built houses in the world, and governed by a lot of saloon-keepers—though I hope it 'll never git down to where the ministers can run it. And the devil comes along, and in one night—why, all you got to do is LOOK at it! You'd think we needn't ever trouble to make it better. That's what the devil wants us to do—wants us to rest easy about it, and paints it up to look like a heaven of peace and purity and sanctified spirits. Snowfall like this would of made Lot turn the angel out-of-doors and say that the old home was good enough for him. Gomorrah would of looked like a Puritan village —though I'll bet my last dollar that there was a lot, and a WHOLE lot, that's never been told about Puritan villages. A lot that—" "WHAT never was?" interrupted Mr. Peter Bradbury, whose granddaughter had lately announced her discovery that the Bradburys were descended from Miles Standish. "What wasn't told about Puritan villages?" "Can't you wait?" Mr. Arp's accents were those of pain. "Haven't I got ANY right to present my side of the case? Ain't we restrained enough to allow of free speech here? How can we ever git anywhere in an argument like this, unless we let one man talk at a time? How—" "Go on with your statement," said Uncle Joe Davey, impatiently. Mr. Arp's grievance was increased. "Now listen to YOU! How many more interruptions are comin'? I'll listen to the other side, but I've got to state mine first, haven't I? If I don't make my point clear, what's the use of the argument? Argumentation is only the comparison of two sides of a question, and you have to see what the first side IS before you can compare it with the other one, don't you? Are you all agreed to that?" "Yes, yes," said the Colonel. "Go ahead. We won't interrupt until you're through." "Very well," resumed Mr. Arp, with a fleeting expression of satisfaction, "as I said before, I wish to—as I said—" He paused, in some confusion. "As I said, argumentation is—that is, I say—" He stopped again, utterly at sea, having talked himself so far out of his course that he was unable to recall either his sailing port or his destination. Finally he said, feebly, to save the confession, "Well, go on with your side of it." This generosity was for a moment disconcerting; however, the quietest of the party took up the opposition—Roger Tabor, a very thin, old man with a clean-shaven face, almost as white as his hair, and melancholy, gentle, gray eyes, very unlike those of his brother Jonas, which were dark and sharp and button-bright. (It was to Roger's son that Jonas had so magnificently sold the hardware business.) Roger was known in Canaan as "the artist"; there had never been another of his profession in the place, and the town knew not the word "painter," except in application to the useful artisan who is subject to lead-poisoning. There was no indication of his profession in the attire of Mr. Tabor, unless the too apparent age of his black felt hat and a neat patch at the elbow of his shiny, old brown overcoat might have been taken as symbols of the sacrifice to his muse which his life had been. He was not a constant attendant of the conclave, and when he came it was usually to listen; indeed, he spoke so seldom that at the sound of his voice they all turned to him with some surprise. "I suppose," he began, "that Eskew means the devil is behind all beautiful things." "Ugly ones, too," said Mr. Arp, with a start of recollection. "And I wish to state—" "Not now!" Colonel Flitcroft turned upon him violently. "You've already stated it." "Then, if he is behind the ugly things, too," said Roger, "we must take him either way, so let us be glad of the beauty for its own sake. Eskew says this is a wicked town. It may be—I don't know. He says it's badly built; perhaps it is; but it doesn't seem to me that it's ugly in itself. I don't know what its real self is, because it wears so many aspects. God keeps painting it all the time, and never shows me twice the same picture; not even two snowfalls are just alike, nor the days that follow them; no more than two misty sunsets are alike—for the color and even the form of the town you call ugly are a matter of the season of the year and of the time of day and of the light and air. The ugly town is like an endless gallery which you can walk through, from year-end to year-end, never seeing the same canvas twice, no matter how much you may want to—and there's the pathos of it. Isn't it the same with people with the characters of all of us, just as it is with our faces? No face remains the same for two successive days—" "It don't?" Colonel Flitcroft interrupted, with an explosive and rueful incredulity. "Well, I'd like to—" Second thoughts came to him almost immediately, and, as much out of gallantry as through discretion, fearing that he might be taken as thinking of one at home, he relapsed into silence. Not so with the others. It was as if a firecracker had been dropped into a sleeping poultry-yard. Least of all could Mr. Arp contain himself. At the top of his voice, necessarily, he agreed with Roger that faces changed, not only from day to day, and not only because of light and air and such things, but from hour to hour, and from minute to minute, through the hideous stimulus of hypocrisy. The "argument" grew heated; half a dozen tidy quarrels arose; all the sages went at it fiercely, except Roger Tabor, who stole quietly away. The aged men were enjoying themselves thoroughly, especially those who quarrelled. Naturally, the frail bark of the topic which had been launched was whirled about by too many side-currents to remain long in sight, and soon became derelict, while the intellectual dolphins dove and tumbled in the depths. At the end of twenty minutes Mr. Arp emerged upon the surface, and in his mouth was this: "Tell me, why ain't the Church—why ain't the Church and the rest of the believers in a future life lookin' for immortality at the other end of life, too? If we're immortal, we always have been; then why don't they ever speculate on what we were before we were born? It's because they're too blame selfish—don't care a flapdoodle about what WAS, all they want is to go on livin' forever." Mr. Arp's voice had risen to an acrid triumphancy, when it suddenly faltered, relapsed to a murmur, and then to a stricken silence, as a tall, fat man of overpowering aspect threw open the outer door near by and crossed the lobby to the clerk's desk. An awe fell upon the sages with this advent. They were hushed, and after a movement in their chairs, with a strange effect of huddling, sat disconcerted and attentive, like schoolboys at the entrance of the master. The personage had a big, fat, pink face and a heavily undershot jaw, what whitish beard he wore following his double chin somewhat after the manner displayed in the portraits of Henry the Eighth. His eyes, very bright under puffed upper lids, were intolerant and insultingly penetrating despite their small size. Their irritability held a kind of hotness, and yet the personage exuded frost, not of the weather, all about him. You could not imagine man or angel daring to greet this being genially—sooner throw a kiss to Mount Pilatus! "Mr. Brown," he said, with ponderous hostility, in a bull bass, to the clerk—the kind of voice which would have made an express train leave the track and go round the other way—"do you hear me?" "Oh yes, Judge," the clerk replied, swiftly, in tones as unlike those which he used for strange transients as a collector's voice in his ladylove's ear is unlike that which he propels at delinquents. "Do you see that snow?" asked the personage, threateningly. "Yes, Judge." Mr. Brown essayed a placating smile. "Yes, indeed, Judge Pike." "Has your employer, the manager of this hotel, seen that snow?" pursued the personage, with a gesture of unspeakable solemn menace. "Yes, sir. I think so. Yes, sir." "Do you think he fully understands that I am the proprietor of this building?" "Certainly, Judge, cer—" "You will inform him that I do not intend to be discommoded by his negligence as I pass to my offices. Tell him from me that unless he keeps the sidewalks in front of this hotel clear of snow I will cancel his lease. Their present condition is outrageous. Do you understand me? Outrageous! Do you hear?" "Yes, Judge, I do so," answered the clerk, hoarse with respect. "I'll see to it this minute, Judge Pike." "You had better." The personage turned himself about and began a grim progress towards the door by which he had entered, his eyes fixing themselves angrily upon the conclave at the windows. Colonel Flitcroft essayed a smile, a faltering one. "Fine weather, Judge Pike," he said, hopefully. There was no response of any kind; the undershot jaw became more intolerant. The personage made his opinion of the group disconcertingly plain, and the old boys understood that he knew them for a worthless lot of senile loafers, as great a nuisance in his building as was the snow without; and much too evident was his unspoken threat to see that the manager cleared them out of there before long. He nodded curtly to the only man of substance among them, Jonas Tabor, and shut the door behind him with majestic insult. He was Canaan's millionaire. He was one of those dynamic creatures who leave the haunting impression of their wills behind them, like the tails of Bo-Peep's sheep, like the evil dead men have done; he left his intolerant image in the ether for a long time after he had gone, to confront and confound the aged men and hold them in deferential and humiliated silence. Each of them was mysteriously lowered in his own estimation, and knew that he had been made to seem futile and foolish in the eyes of his fellows. They were all conscious, too, that the clerk had been acutely receptive of Judge Pike's reading of them; that he was reviving from his own squelchedness through the later snubbing of the colonel; also that he might further seek to recover his poise by an attack on them for cluttering up the office. Naturally, Jonas Tabor was the first to speak. "Judge Pike's lookin' mighty well," he said, admiringly. "Yes, he is," ventured Squire Buckalew, with deference; "mighty well." "Yes, sir," echoed Peter Bradbury; "mighty well." "He's a great man," wheezed Uncle Joe Davey; "a great man, Judge Martin Pike; a great man!" "I expect he has considerable on his mind," said the Colonel, who had grown very red. "I noticed that he hardly seemed to see us." "Yes, sir," Mr. Bradbury corroborated, with an attempt at an amused laugh. "I noticed it, too. Of course a man with all his cares and interests must git absent-minded now and then." "Of course he does," said the colonel. "A man with all his responsibilities—" "Yes, that's so," came a chorus of the brethren, finding comfort and reassurance as their voices and spirits began to recover from the blight. "There's a party at the Judge's to-night," said Mr. Bradbury—"kind of a ball Mamie Pike's givin' for the young folks. Quite a doin's, I hear." "That's another thing that's ruining Canaan," Mr. Arp declared, morosely. "These entertainments they have nowadays. Spend all the money out of town—band from Indianapolis, chicken salad and darkey waiters from Chicago! And what I want to know is, What's this town goin' to do about the nigger question?" "What about it?" asked Mr. Davey, belligerently. "What about it?" Mr. Arp mocked, fiercely. "You better say, 'What about it?'" "Well, what?" maintained Mr. Davey, steadfastly. "I'll bet there ain't any less than four thousand niggers in Canaan to-day!" Mr. Arp hammered the floor with his stick. "Every last one of 'em criminals, and more comin' on every train." "No such a thing," said Squire Buckalew, living up to his bounden duty. "You look down the street. There's the ten-forty-five comin' in now. I'll bet you a straight five-cent Peek-a-Boo cigar there ain't ary nigger on the whole train, except the sleepin'-car porters." "What kind of a way to argue is that?" demanded Mr. Arp, hotly. "Bettin' ain't proof, is it? Besides, that's the through express from the East. I meant trains from the South." "You didn't say so," retorted Buckalew, triumphantly. "Stick to your bet, Eskew, stick to your bet." "My bet!" cried the outraged Eskew. "Who offered to bet?" "You did," replied the Squire, with perfect assurance and sincerity. The others supported him in the heartiest spirit of on-with-the-dance, and war and joy were unconfined. A decrepit hack or two, a couple of old-fashioned surreys, and a few "cut-unders" drove by, bearing the newly arrived and their valises, the hotel omnibus depositing several commercial travellers at the door. A solitary figure came from the station on foot, and when it appeared within fair range of the window, Uncle Joe Davey, who had but hovered on the flanks of the combat, first removed his spectacles and wiped them, as though distrusting the vision they offered him, then, replacing them, scanned anew the approaching figure and uttered a smothered cry. "My Lord A'mighty!" he gasped. "What's this? Look there!" They looked. A truce came involuntarily, and they sat in paralytic silence as the figure made its stately and sensational progress along Main Street. Not only the aged men were smitten. Men shovelling snow from the pavements stopped suddenly in their labors; two women, talking busily on a doorstep, were stilled and remained in frozen attitudes as it passed; a grocer's clerk, crossing the pavement, carrying a heavily laden basket to his delivery wagon, halted half-way as the figure came near, and then, making a pivot of his heels as it went by, behaved towards it as does the magnetic needle to the pole. It was that of a tall gentleman, cheerfully, though somewhat with ennui, enduring his nineteenth winter. His long and slender face he wore smiling, beneath an accurately cut plaster of dark hair cornicing his forehead, a fashion followed by many youths of that year. This perfect bang was shown under a round black hat whose rim was so small as almost not to be there at all; and the head was supported by a waxy-white sea-wall of collar, rising three inches above the blue billows of a puffed cravat, upon which floated a large, hollow pearl. His ulster, sporting a big cape at the shoulders, and a tasselled hood over the cape, was of a rough Scotch cloth, patterned in faint, gray-and-white squares the size of baggage-checks, and it was so long that the skirts trailed in the snow. His legs were lost in the accurately creased, voluminous garments that were the tailors' canny reaction from the tight trousers with which the 'Eighties had begun: they were, in color, a palish russet, broadly striped with gray, and, in size, surpassed the milder spirit of fashion so far as they permitted a liberal knee action to take place almost without superficial effect. Upon his feet glistened long shoes, shaped, save for the heels, like sharp racing-shells; these were partially protected by tan-colored low gaiters with flat, shiny, brown buttons. In one hand the youth swung a bone-handled walking-stick, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter, the other carried a yellow leather banjo-case, upon the outer side of which glittered the embossed-silver initials, "E. B." He was smoking, but walked with his head up, making use, however, of a gait at that time new to Canaan, a seeming superbly irresponsible lounge, engendering much motion of the shoulders, producing an effect of carelessness combined with independence—an effect which the innocent have been known to hail as an unconscious one. He looked about him as he came, smilingly, with an expression of princely amusement—as an elderly cabinet minister, say, strolling about a village where he had spent some months in his youth, a hamlet which he had then thought large and imposing, but which, being revisited after years of cosmopolitan glory, appeals to his whimsy and his pity. The youth's glance at the court-house unmistakably said: "Ah, I recall that odd little box. I thought it quite large in the days before I became what I am now, and I dare say the good townsfolk still think it an imposing structure!" With everything in sight he deigned to be amused, especially with the old faces in the "National House" windows. To these he waved his stick with airy graciousness. "My soul!" said Mr. Davey. "It seems to know some of us!" "Yes," agreed Mr. Arp, his voice recovered, "and I know IT." "You do?" exclaimed the Colonel. "I do, and so do you. It's Fanny Louden's boy, 'Gene, come home for his Christmas holidays." "By George! you're right," cried Flitcroft; "I recognize him now." "But what's the matter with him?" asked Mr. Bradbury, eagerly. "Has he joined some patent-medicine troupe?" "Not a bit," replied Eskew. "He went East to college last fall." "Do they MAKE the boys wear them clothes?" persisted Bradbury. "Is it some kind of uniform?" "I don't care what it is," said Jonas Tabor. "If I was Henry Louden I wouldn't let him wear 'em around here." "Oh, you wouldn't, wouldn't you, Jonas?" Mr. Arp employed the accents of sarcasm. "I'd like to see Henry Louden try to interfere with 'Gene Bantry. Fanny'd lock the old fool up in the cellar." The lofty vision lurched out of view. "I reckon," said the Colonel, leaning forward to see the last of it—"I reckon Henry Louden's about the saddest case of abused step-father I ever saw." "It's his own fault," said Mr. Arp—"twice not havin' sense enough not to marry. Him with a son of his own, too!" "Yes," assented the Colonel, "marryin' a widow with a son of her own, and that widow Fanny!" "Wasn't it just the same with her first husband—Bantry?" Mr. Davey asked, not for information, as he immediately answered himself. "You bet it was! Didn't she always rule the roost? Yes, she did. She made a god of 'Gene from the day he was born. Bantry's house was run for him, like Louden's is now." "And look," exclaimed Mr. Arp, with satisfaction, "at the way he's turned out!" "He ain't turned out at all yet; he's too young," said Buckalew. "Besides, clothes don't make the man."
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